I have always been the kind who drools over sportbikes or even supernakeds for that matter. The thrill and rush the very moment you give it the beans is what keeps me going back to the RSV4s, R1s and Busas of the world. And if I had to poke a stick at the board, it’d quote Lighting McQueen’s “I am speed”. Might sound cocky, but you catch the drift.
Now, the current flock of buyers has their heads turned to the back, looking at the past for inspiration, and motorcycle manufacturers are right there to feed them fodder with the modern-retro class. However, as you’d have already understood, I wouldn’t think of wanting one of those kinds, even in my dream garage. And I wouldn’t ever have given the Royal Enfield Classic 350 a second thought, until a few months ago…
With talk about the Meteor’s performance and how Royal Enfield has managed to turn their own game around for good, the Classic 350 entered our long-term fleet with pressure to match up to a mound of expectations. Anuj, who reviewed it and still has the Classic as his long-termer couldn’t stop raving about the motorcycle. Although, Vikrant, who has been riding two-wheeled machines for what seems like aeons, and an ex-owner of a retro Machismo 500, didn’t quite take a liking to it.
Now, that is what got me intrigued. How, may I ask, does a man who owned a Royal Enfield from the 90s, not like the all-spanking-new Classic with nearly every bit of it changed? Is there something missing still?
Well, with a can full of questions in my head, I rode the Classic 350 for a day to try and clear my thoughts about it. I knew it had transformed. It looked familiar, but it felt new. But, even still, I just couldn’t bring myself to like it. So, I decided to borrow the Classic from Anuj at the start of 2022 to properly ride it. The closure is all that matters, you see.
When I rode it then, all it was, was heavy. Although, as the traffic began to thicken and we filtered through it, little did I know it had already ignited the spark of contentment. With its appropriately wide handlebars and a rake angle sharper than before, the Classic was light on its feet. Well, not the telepathic kind of agile, but more than enough to keep one entertained. It was also exponentially better than the sloppy picture I had painted of the previous model in my mind.
To double up on its handling is its engine which is a result of an Indian, a Brit and a Jap walking into a bar and coming out with the new 650 twins and the Classic 350. Royal Enfield has done an incredible job there. This ‘J-platform’ motor is the same as the one on the Meteor 350 which I happened to test in 2020. However, with minor tweaks, it seems livelier, even in the way it sounds. The exhaust note is all hyped-up and enthusiastic with a subtle bit of the traditional ‘dug-dug’ somewhere. I never completely liked the way it sounded earlier, so the new one appealed to me quite a bit.
What had me hooked further was how the engine performed. Just like the exhaust note, the Classic’s engine is lively. Well, torque it always had, but the eagerness it shows to push ahead is exactly what the new Classic offers.
For someone who likes to ride hard often, twisting the throttle, shifting through a rather slick gearbox and hitting a top speed of 120kmph on the Royal Enfield Classic 350 had me pleasantly surprised. More importantly, even at 100kmph, which it can carry easily, the Classic had much lesser vibrations.
And when it was time to tone things down a bit, the Classic seemed equally engaging; after all, taking things slow is what it was these classics are known for right? With tractability as key, the motorcycle effortlessly offers the easy-going, ‘wind-in-your-hair’ character retro motorcycles are synonymous with. That too, brought a smile to my face as I soaked in the sun or the sparkling necklace of streetlamps on Marine Drive while cruising at 60kmph.
With that said, the Classic 350 is not free of niggles. It still feels heavy in slow-moving traffic, or if you ever need to mount it on the centre stand. And the wide-placed pegs are a nuisance at a standstill as they nudge into the shins. But as I rode the motorcycle for two months more, these gripes were featherweight compared to the positives the motorcycle brings to the table.
I ended up preferring to take out the Classic over other motorcycles for weekend trips and with the welcoming pillion seat, my anti-motorcycle Mother didn’t mind travelling to and from the market on it. Even the Raja Babu reminiscent colour scheme was a delight to look at, eventually.
Well, growing to like the Classic 350 came as a surprise for me. Retro motorcycles weren’t my thing and definitely not the previous Classic. But the new one is different. That also made me realise why it wouldn’t necessarily appeal to someone who has owned a retro Royal Enfield or is driven solely by proper old-school charm. While the previous model took its own time and was black and white in the way it functioned, the new one is the complete opposite. It is comfortable and up-to-date on features, but above all, it is decently fast, agile and adequately modern- traits that had me smitten quicker than a Hayabusa doing 300kmph+ on the Bonneville Salt Flats…